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Mike Gallo [March 13, 2002]

Targus HandCam Converts Handspring Into Camera, Video Recorder

BY MIKE GALLO


Targus Inc
Ph: 714-765-5555
www.targus.com

Price: $ 99.00

RATINGS:
(Out of 5 possible stars.)

Installation:

Performance:
Features:
GUI:
Overall: B

The Targus HandCam converts a PDA into a digital camera, as well as an .AVI movie recorder. Compatible with a Handspring Visor, Visor Deluxe, Prism, Edge, Neo or Pro; the HandCam slides into the Springboard slot, exposing only the adjustable camera so that it appears perched atop the PDA. Installing the HandCam in its accompanying USB adaptor allows it to become a PC camera or a streaming Web cam as well.

 

INSTALLATION
The product must be initially installed in a Windows 98/ME/2000 environment, on a Pentium PC or higher, with a CD-ROM drive, 160 MBs of free space, and a minimum 64 MB of RAM. As mentioned above, the Targus HandCam is compatible with the Handspring Visor line of PDAs. For use as a Web cam, a PC/laptop must have a USB port.

I was taking pictures and recording footage with the HandCam inside of 10 minutes. The installation CD contains the Targus HandCam Suite, which includes: the PDA/PC HandCam device driver, TWAIN driver, video capture, still photo capture, and digital photo album software. Other optional software includes ArcSoft Photo Impressions v 3.0 (a photo editing and printing program) and a version of NetMeeting for the Windows 98 OS. After a reboot, I synchronized the handheld and installed the camera unit into my Prism's expansion slot. Almost immediately, the PDA's screen was transformed into the camera's full-color display.

Installation for the PC/Web cam requires removing the camera from the Handspring's expansion slot and attaching it to the (included) USB adaptor. After inserting the USB adaptor into the free USB port on my PC, Windows 2000's plug-and-play detection took care of the rest. The HandCam also comes with an attachable clip which can be opened wide enough to securely grip a laptop's monitor; this makes it easy to position and steady the camera for use.

FEATURES
The HandCam utilizes the Visor's Springboard interface, has 2 MB of on-board memory, and comes standard with a self-timing feature. It is both image-capture and video-capture ready. The camera has an adjustable lens, records video at 8 frames per second, and can capture images at either 640 x 480 (130 KB) or 160 x 120 (38 KB).

OPERATIONAL TESTING
To use the camera, power on your PDA and choose the HandCam icon from the main menu. When the application opens, a streaming video image appears on the PDA along with a small toolbar at the bottom portion of the screen. The toolbar allows users to choose whether they'd like to capture .AVI movie footage, take digital pictures, or view existing pictures/footage through the HandCam GUI.

Take A Snapshot
Before actually taking a picture, several options must be selected to ensure the pictures are formatted to the user's specification. The digital camera can take both full-size and Palm-size pictures. The demo Visor PDA I used for testing had about 7 MB of free memory on it. This allowed for about 79 full-size, or 186 Palm-size pictures. Beyond this, you'll have to either copy some files over to the HandCam's on-board memory or delete some files to free up more space. The camera lens will also need to be focused for optimal quality depending upon the surrounding environment.

The PDA screen acts as the camera's "view finder." Because of the lens' range of motion, users will most likely position it on the same plane as the PDA's screen. I found that holding the PDA at about chest level (while looking at the screen), with the lens pointing straight ahead, parallel to the floor, was the best way to take snap shots and shoot video footage. Once the object is in focus, pressing the top scroll button, or the "Up" button, will snap the picture. The HandCam then issues an on-screen "Hold Still" prompt, followed by a beep approximately one second after the prompt is displayed, signaling that the picture is ready to be saved.

Tapping on the Thumbnails icon allows a user to view thumbnails of existing video and snapshots (Figure 1). Choosing one of the thumbnails allows the user to access additional options. The tool bar at the bottom of the GUI (Figure 2) provides users with the means to access specifics about the file, such as pixel count, type, size etc. Using the Details icon, a user can transfer picture files from the handheld's internal memory to the 2 MB, on-board HandCam memory. When done, this option frees up internal memory without deleting valuable files, allotting more media storage space. Files can also be beamed to other handhelds or deleted using this toolbar.


Figure 1. Thumbnails.

Figure 2. Movie toolbar.

Capturing Video Footage
The HandCam is capable of capturing video footage that is saved in the .AVI file format. Capturing video works fundamentally the same way as capturing still photos. Though you don't have the option to choose different file sizes, it's still necessary to focus the lens and start the video capture by pressing the "Up" button on the Visor's dashboard. Before starting to capture video, the display informs users how much time they've got to record (this varies depending upon how much free memory the PDA contains), but regrettably does not count down once video is rolling; this accounts for some of my abrupt video clip endings. My demo unit made available all the Visor's free memory to capture video. With approximately 7.2 MB of free space, I was able to capture an .AVI file of equivalent size, which translates into about 26 seconds of recording time.

I recommend using a little forethought before beginning to shoot a video sequence, as anything but slow and steady pans will result in an undistinguishable blur. After capturing some video, the interface provides the option to save and change the name of the file from the appended time and date, which serves as the default file name.

Using The HandCam On A PC
This requires the USB adaptor, which is included in the purchase price of the HandCam.

The HandCam's GUI allows users to utilize the same type of functionality it provides on a handheld computer: the ability to take snap shots and record video. The GUI also provides some additional functionality such as a feature that allows you to create a video voice mail, by creating an executable file containing the video decoder, should the intended party not have the means to decode an .AVI file. The GUI also allows access to camera settings for tuning video settings, and adjusting file formats and mail preferences. The GUI supports access to stored photos and photo albums, which can be manipulated using the bundled ArcSoft Photo software. The HandCam is compatible with NetMeeting and therefore, can be used for video conferencing or as a Web cam.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
If you look at the product shot at the top of this article for perspective, note the relationship between the lens position and the PDA screen. The lens' range of motion seems limiting, as it prevents the most practical and effective way to operate the device (in my opinion).

For example, if I were holding the PDA so the screen and the camera lens are both facing me, I could rotate the lens backward about 100-110 degrees, so that it points at objects in front of me. I then must lower the PDA parallel to the ground so I can see what I'm aiming at on the PDA's screen; this positioning means the Visor's screen is difficult to see due to the reflection of overhead lights or direct sunlight. Often, I found myself shielding the screen from direct light with one hand, while holding the PDA and snapping the photo with the other hand. Often, however, I couldn't clearly see the object in the shot at all, and I had to just hope the picture or video footage would be in perspective.

I think this problem can be avoided using one of two possible alternatives: either add a physical view finder to the device, similar to the type used on most cameras; or re-engineer the lens to extend its range of motion to 180 degrees. The latter would still allow the screen to be used as the view finder, however it could be held a 90 degree angle, perpendicular to the ground, making it much less susceptible to direct light contamination.

One other issue I thought should be corrected was the fact that I couldn't copy video footage to the 2 MB on-board memory of the camera. Yes, even when the file was smaller than 2 MB.

Though this is more of a wish than anything else, it would have been really useful to be able to put the Visor in its cradle (with the HandCam attached) and use the HandCam via the PC using the HotSync cradle's USB connection. This would eliminate having to remove the HotSync cradle's USB connection from your computer and plug in the HandCam's USB cable each time you want to use the HandCam on your PC (if you only have one free USB port, as I did).

CONCLUSION
Though its design is a bit limited for my taste, I was able to take many quality digital pictures and videos using the Targus HandCam. At 640 x 480, the digital picture resolution isn't of high quality, however, unless you're using the images for professional graphics it was certainly acceptable. While the HandCam won't be used in the professional photography arena any time soon, there are some practical business applications for the HandCam. In the automobile insurance field, for example, it may provide a useful tool for a claims adjustor or fraud investigator.

If you've already got a Handspring Visor, the HandCam is a good value, providing not only the functionality of a digital camera, but an .AVI movie recorder and PC camera or Web cam as well.

Michael Gallo is a technology editor for TMC Labs, and a regular contributor to Planet PDA. He welcomes your comments on this article in our Planet PDA Forum.











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